This year as part of my geek new year’s resolution, I decided to go to one con a month. I’ve seen some, quite frankly, excellent things at some cons. I’ve also seen some not quite so good things at some cons. I’d like to talk about some of the great things I’ve seen and why I thought they really made my experience all the greater.
Event Sign Up-Everybody goes to a gaming con for some gaming. Otherwise you wouldn’t spend 20 bucks for a day badge to just hang with some friends. Hands down the best con I’ve seen for event sign up is GrandCon. GrandCon is a new con in Grand Rapids. The team there is the same team that works together at Origins, and it shows. They fixed my issue with my badge and when I went to buy an event ticket, I was in and out in under five minutes. Their con signup was web based until the Thursday of the con, then you had to do onsite signup, and that’s ok.
Now not all cons a big enough to have its own server farm, but if you’re small, consider Warhorn. I went to CritCon. It’s another first year con in Ohio. These guys poured their heart and souls into this con, and it showed. Everybody had to sign up on WarHorn. Now WarHorn isn’t my favorite, but it works. The con went off great.
What I don’t like as much is sheets of paper in a hall. It’s ok for smaller cons, but as you get bigger, it’s not as useful especial as you do more complicated analysis afterwards.
Sign Up sheets-I love to run events at cons. I want to share my hobby with others. What I need when I do that is for the con staff to work with me. I’ll work my heart out to provide the programming for your events, but I need clear directions from you on what you want and where do I get to work. I loved running events at Ucon. Ucon is just celebrated its 25th year as a con. When I signed in as a GM, I was given my badge and a packet containing instruction and lists of all my players at each event. It wasn’t a complete list as you could get general admission tickets, but it gave me an idea of who I could expect. I absolutely loved that.
When a con doesn’t give me a heads up, I don’t have a clue. Am I in the wrong spot? Can my players just not find me? How long should I wait for players? As a rule I try to be 15 ahead of my slot, and if I don’t see players after 30 minutes, I assume there will not be any. Is that a good idea? If you don’t tell me as a con organizer, I’m completely in the dark.
Event Ticketing and Recording-When I sign up for an event, I expect I have a slot in that event held for me for at least a few minutes into the event. Watches might not be right, I might get held up in the bathroom, or my food might not get served to me to quickly at the restaurant so I’m a few minutes late. These are excuses, but I expect at least a little leeway. I understand if I’m 15 minutes late I forfeit my spot, but if I’m less than five minutes into the slot I expect my spot to be there. I had a few bad experiences where I signed up on paper sign in sheets, bought event specific tickets, showed up ON TIME, but since I wasn’t there really early, I didn’t get to play. That right there soured my PentaCon experience.
If you do have sign up paper sheets, get those to the table as soon as possible. Just put them on the table that will have the event 10 minutes ahead. That way when the GM gets to the table, he/she can do a head count and call names of those who signed up. This way people who did sign up get a spot while those who just joined the game won’t take spots from stragglers. This is one of the things I love about Winter Fantasy, a convention in Fort Wayne Indiana each winter. Signup sheets go out to martials who manage players, ticketed players get first pick of groups, and general ticket players wait 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, everybody gets equal seating. I can abide by this policy, and it shows in how smoothly Winter Fantasy runs games.
Event Ticket Collection-When I ran events at Winter Fantasy and Ucon, tickets were picked up from my table in under 20 minutes. It was smooth and efficient. If you do this early, you don’t disturb games and the GM knows right away if he doesn’t have any players. The con gets data and tickets, and I get a well run machine of a game going early.
Table Tents with Event Breakdown-This is hands down one of the smartest things I’ve seen at any con. At Ucon, each table had a little folded piece of carboard that had an breakdown of all the events and event times for that table. WHY DOESN’T EVERY BODY ELSE DO THIS?
Venders-Every con should have a thriving vender area. Don’t care what, but if you put some good deals there, I will buy it. A sure sign a con is dying is a shrinking vender area. Vendors pull people into a con. I have a friend that won’t go to a con if it doesn’t have good venders. End of story. I go bargain hunting at cons, so con organizers, please price your vendor spots appropriately. If you are way too expensive, you will end up with empty spots. It’s better to go cheap to get those guys in the door and slightly increase your event ticket sales then to kill your vender area! Venders-I love you guys, but keep in mind at a con I see your main job to get your name out there. I already have a local guy who I buy my games from, so the argument of by local is already happening. When I go to a con, I expect a value or exclusivity. I also have my phone with me at all times, and I can order from Amazon with free shipping. If your price is over 110% of Amazons price I will either buy from my local guy or Amazon. That’s it. When I went to GrandCon, the vender deals were insane. I spent over $150 bucks because I was getting deals. When I went to Ucon, I spent $30 bucks. The proof is in the money.
Random Gaming-Every con needs to encourage random geeks to sit and play some games. If you’re a decent size con in the midwest, check out the GenCon board game library. I’m ok if you charge me a single general event ticket for several hours of gaming, but don’t charge me several times if I’m teaching myself and a friend a game. Also, you should encourage people to just sit down and game. PentaCon this year was kind of underwhelming for me, but the part of the weekend that made it fun was when I was leaving the hall and some random guy had a game out. We started a conversation, and then started to play his game. I played games for six hours straight. It was a blast. Cons, help get some random geeks together! It’s what the whole purpose is anyway!
Friday Night Magic-Look, I don’t like Magic. But, Magic is quite possibly the most important thing the gaming industry has going. If you run a con that covers a Friday Night, you NEED a magic event. Work with your Venders to get an awesome prize package together. Sell special, Magic specific badges. Get these guys in the door. They might come back and buy full badges. At the worst you get your cons name out there!
Those are a few of my thoughts on cons. I’m only going to one more this year, but I can’t wait to see what next year brings. Hope to see you at one!